Some Doctors Still Prescribe Too Many Opioids, CDC Finds

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A report out today from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that use of these highly addictive narcotic pain meds dropped in the last few years. But a closer look at the numbers in the CDC study reveals another, more troubling trend: Some doctors are still overprescribing opioids, which puts lives at risk.

Overall, the use of OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin, and other opioid pain medications decreased by 13 percent between 2012 and 2015. Yet even with that drop, prescribing remains alarmingly high, according to the CDC. In 2015, U.S. doctors prescribed enough opioids to medicate every American around the clock for three weeks.

“The amount of opioids prescribed in the U.S. is still too high, with too many opioid prescriptions for too many days at too high a dosage,” said the CDC’s acting director, Anne Schuchat, M.D. 

Safer Pain Relief

Last year, the CDC released guidelines advising doctors to not prescribe more than three days’ worth of opioids for most patients.

“Healthcare providers have an important role in offering safer and more effective pain management while reducing risks of opioid addiction and overdose,” Schuchat says.

But because some doctors are too quick to prescribe opioids, patients need to speak up and ask about other options for relieving pain, advises Consumer Reports’ medical director, Orly Avitzur, M.D.

“The thinking on opioid prescribing has changed in recent years as the severity of the risks of the drugs has come to light,” Avitzur says. “We also have far more research supporting the effectiveness of safer medications and even nondrug measures.”

For example, research shows that the combination of over-the-counter acetaminophen (Tylenol and generic) and an anti-inflammatory drug such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB and generic) or naproxen (Aleve and generic) can actually work better than an opioid to relieve pain after a dental procedure.

And the American College of Physicians now recommends avoiding opioids for most cases of back pain. Instead, the APC recommends trying nondrug options such as heat, acupuncture, massage, spinal manipulation, and yoga before resorting to any medication.

However, that updated advice can be slow to trickle down to all doctors’ everyday practices, Avitzur says: “Prescribing habits become deeply entrenched. So it’s important to remind your healthcare providers that you don’t want—or need—a lengthy opioid…

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